Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another Year

Today I saw Another Year, starring Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen.

Tom (Broadbent) and Gerri (Sheen) are one of those rare couples who have spent their whole lives married and still like each other. In fact, they seem genuinely happier when in the presence of the other.

Mary (Lesley Manville) is the saddest third wheel that has ever been portrayed in film. She is the secretary at the hospital where Gerri works as a counselor, and aside from Gerri and Tom, she doesn't appear to have any friends.

The couple are good to her—perhaps the reason she clings so tightly to them—but even they have their limits when Mary makes passes at their much-younger son, then treats his new girlfriend with disrespect on her first visit to the home.

There is also Tom's troubled friend Ken (Peter Wight), who drinks, eats and smokes too much, and Tom's brother Ronnie (David Bradley), who says so little that we have to wonder if his bitter son's anger is justified.

Despite all the ranges of personalities, no one in the group is hard to watch (though the girlfriend of their son is borderline annoying). In fact, the group seems so organic you often forget your watching actors on a screen.

I love screenwriters who give such depth to their characters that we ache for their uncomfortable silences. Mike Leigh is such a writer, and Another Year is such a film.

A beautiful look at the unbalance of fairness in life that leaves you pitying the lonely ones and sympathizing with the lucky ones.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Rite

Tonight I saw The Rite, starring Colin O'Donoghue and Anthony Hopkins.

Michael Novak (O'Donoghue) is a seminary student ready to jump ship because he doubts his faith. Father Lucas (Hopkins) is the eccentric priest that the Vatican sends him to for exorcism training when he challenges his instructor. Demon possession arrives.

The story moves a lot slower than typical horror flicks and is significantly less frightening. Sure, there are a fair amount of contorted bodies hissing at the men of cloth, and a notable amount of jumpy moments, but at no point did I ever find myself looking over my shoulder or quivering in fear.

Therein lies the problem.

The topic is not a boring one. Millions of people, including the priests and devout members of the Catholic church, believe in demon possession.

In fact, this specific story is based on truth: the real-life Novak is Father Gary Thomas who currently practices in Saratoga, Calif. and served as a consultant for this film. Exorcisms, though they are rare, really do take place and lives are changed because of them.

Unfortunately, the flat script zaps out all of the the excitement and energy surrounding their rituals.

The acting is fine, though Colin is almost too handsome to be believable, and the character of Angelina (Alice Braga) is completely pointless.

Hopkins will never match his own creepiness as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, but his performance is acceptable, nonetheless.

I'd just rather have watched a documentary on the subject.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Blue Valentine

On Monday I saw Blue Valentine, starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #101, airing in February.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Millennium: The Story

Today I screened Millennium: The Story, a documentary about author Stieg Larsson.

A look at the author's life from birth to death, this informative film by Lawrence Lownethal taught me a great deal about this famous man.

Larsson grew up in a modest country home with no hot water, sleeping in the same bed with all of his family members for warmth. They were a happy family and his childhood was good. He traveled to many places as a politically charged adult, but spent most of his time in Stockholm, where his famous novels are set.

His life mirrored that of his books' hero, Mikael Blomkvist, as Larsson was an investigative journalist for a quarterly magazine (Expo) just like his alter ego was with Millennium. His colleagues joked that Mikael was a projection of what Stieg always wanted to be, having lots of women and sex. Unfortunately, the true parallels of the mens' lives were the violent ones. Larsson was always looking over his shoulder as the target of neo-nazi groups he had publicly condemned. For this reason, he never married his partner of over thirty years or listed his address as the same as hers publicly. He thought that tricking the bad guys into believing he was alone would protect her from their wrath, and apparently he succeeded. However, because he never married her, his estate is the source of constant controversy.

When he died at age 50 from a sudden heart attack, his books had not yet become the phenomenon they are today. In fact, he never saw a penny of his own success.

Of course they went on to break sales records and secure multimillion dollar movie deals, so quite a fortune was to be made. But who does it belong to? The family who raised him and will forever be linked by blood, or the woman he chose as his family for three decades? The courts say it's the family.

His surviving relatives (Dad and Brother both speak in this film) claim to not want the large sums of money for themselves. On camera his father says he has no interest in fancy cars and just wants a "quiet life." They also want to put some of the money toward women's charities, which surely would've pleased the author.

Then there's the matter of the unfinished book. Larsson was 3/4 of the way through the fourth book in the series (he planned to write 10) and so there is a debate about completing and publishing that book.

Let this be a lesson to all of us: it's important to create a will that clearly states your wishes, no matter how many years you assume you have left to live.

It feels like there is no right answer. In a perfect world, the common-law wife and the surviving relatives would split everything down the middle, but legally it's not that simple.

The documentary does a very good job of not "taking sides" and truly celebrating the wonder that was the author.

I truly enjoyed learning little trivia facts (he loved to eat pizza, just like his characters and also based part of Lisbeth on Pippi Longstocking). I also enjoyed seeing the movie versions of Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) and Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) praising the stories, and learning that there is a Millennium tour that I can take the next time I'm in Stockholm.

After reading the books, seeing the movies and watching this documentary, I'm certain I will!


Monday, January 03, 2011

The Fighter

Tonight I saw The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale.

I won't shy away from any film that promises a shirtless Mark Wahlberg, though I must admit I wasn't excited to hear this film was about boxing. Good thing for me that there's very little boxing involved.

The story is a retelling of the true tale of two brothers who took the boxing world by storm.

Dicky Eklund (Bale) famously knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard (or, er...he slipped) in the late 70s and has been milking that spotlight ever since. He's a hero in the small Massachusetts town where they live.

Micky Ward (Wahlberg) is his only brother (though the two share seven—yes, seven—sisters) and looks up to him for this reason alone. There is not much else about Dicky to look up to. He has developed a crack habit, sleeps with whores and leaves his son with his family to be raised as an afterthought.

The training that he offers his brother would be valuable if he could stay clean long enough to see it through, but he can't, and the results are disastrous.

Lucky for Micky, he soon meets Charlene (Amy Adams) who has dropped out of college and works at the local bar. Yes, she is apparently the classiest broad in town.

Speaking of broads, the boys' mother Alice (Melissa Leo) is a real piece of work. Chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, hairspray-addicted and determined to make some serious cash off her sons, she is the very epitome of white trash. When she's not yelling at her beer-drinking, lounging daughters, she's organizing a fight to try to advance Micky to a Dicky level of spotlight.

It's just not working.

So Charlene convinces Micky to ditch his troubled family and the rest is pretty much as predictable as a Wheel of Fortune puzzle with only one letter missing.

It's not a terrible movie, and I'll admit I was entertained for the duration, but what's really bugging me is all the press that Christian Bale is getting for his performance.

I've always liked Bale, but here he seems to be playing this crack addict as a mentally challenged lunatic instead of a street guy who is high all the time. I grew up in a neighborhood of drug users and never once do I remember the crack users having perpetually popped eyes. They were jittery and nervous and hollow, but not exactly retarded.

On the flip side, Wahlberg's never been more understated and that was a welcome change from his usual too-angry portrayals.

And the women, well, they were fantastic.

Melissa Leo is a bit much as the annoying Alice, but I'm guessing the real woman was probably just as obnoxious; Amy Adams and her boobs aren't anything like the innocent Junebug and Enchanted characters we've seen her inhabit before, and it's hard to take your eyes off the screen when she's there. The seven sisters? Hilarious.

I had more fun with this movie than I expected to, but that's perhaps because my expectations were low.


Sunday, January 02, 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris

Today I saw I Love You Phillip Morris, starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.

Truth will always be stranger than fiction, and that's certainly the case in the story of Steven Russell, the man on which this film is based.

Russell (Carrey) had a normal upbringing (with the exception of finding out he was adopted), which led to a normal adulthood that saw him become a respected husband, father and cop.

His wife Debbie (Leslie Mann) was a Jesus-loving goody-two-shoes who only wanted the best for everyone. She was clueless to the double-life Steven was living as a gay man and shocked when she found out about it after he was in a car accident. His "epiphany" to tell the *cough* truth.

Russell moved to Florida, got a boyfriend and began living the high life. The problem was, he couldn't afford the lifestyle he desired, so he began devising cons to pay his way. Eventually the cons caught up with him and he landed in prison, where he met (maybe) the love-of-his-life, Phillip Morris (McGregor). Steven immediately falls for Phillip and eventually gets them both out of prison to live their dream life together, but can't seem to stop the deception. This, of course, causes problems.

The story itself is completely true and undeniably fascinating; the movie has its moments.

Though warned by one of my show's listeners that it was awful, I forged on determined to give it a chance, but I can't deny I was truly let down.

Jim Carrey's portrayal of Russell has too much In Living Color Jim Carrey and not enough Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey.

Though the real con man is arguably an exaggerated personality, the mannerisms in which Carrey represents him don't for a minute ring true. There's posing and hanging on words and extended glances. There's an ease to the vocal impersonations that can't possibly have been as natural for Russell as they were for Carrey.

I'm not sure it's the actor's fault—perhaps the director encouraged him to go full out—but whomever's decision it was made the wrong one.

Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, was pitch perfect. His naive, sweet Morris is just how the real gentleman is said to behave and not for an instant did I doubt he was in love with Russell. And that's not an easy set of emotions to convey.

Anyone who has fallen for a liar knows that it is the most painful relationship you'll ever endure. First, they convince you better than anyone that you are worthy of being loved in the highest regard, then when you catch on that most of what comes out of their mouth is false, you doubt that any of your previous time together was real. It's excruciating (trust me, I've been there) and often even the liar doesn't realize how much damage their doing to the other person because they only know what the easy way out is, and that's usually not the side of things that confronts devastating pain.

McGregor nails these conflicted feelings with expressions and body language that bear his scars.

Leslie Mann is a delight as the devout Debbie, and each time she would appear on-screen I would wish that her scenes lasted longer.

It's just that the film focused too long on spotlighting the comical side of Carrey and never addressed the weight of what really became of these folks (Russell's sentence is one of the most severe in Texas, though he never physically hurt anyone; Morris and Mrs. Russell's lives will never be the same).

I'd have rather seen a documentary.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Today I saw The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist.

Never has a film so reminded me of the book—but in this case, that's not for the better.

In this third installment of the wildly popular Stieg Larsson series, our heroine Lisbeth (Rapace) is in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained during a fight with her evil father and half-brother. The half-brother has escaped into the wilderness, and the father is in stable condition just down the hall from her.

The police are after her (for the attempted murder of her father), her former psychiatrist is after her (to help the prosecutors have her committed), her lawyer is after her (to sort it all out) and her doctor is thankfully a compassionate man, who listens to the right folks and pardons her from too much harassment while she heals.

Meanwhile, Millennium editor Erica Berger (Lena Endre) has been receiving threats at her home and at work, which leads Mikael (Nyqvist) to need to save not one but two damsels in distress.

If they only would just get on with it.

That's what kept going through my mind as I read the novel and that's what was going through my mind today as I was watching this film (it's about an hour too long).

Sure, we need some exposition, but not two hours of it before we get to the meat of the story.

The performances here are predictably great, but the actors barely had anything to do. Courtroom scenes are known for their tension, and with the exception of one 'reveal' here, they are nothing of the sort.

The film was closure for the trilogy, but a disappointing, lengthy one at that.